New vehicle sales in Japan fell 7.8% from a year earlier to 383,499 units in January, the fifth straight month of decline.

Sales in Japan have been declining since the end of the government's eco-subsidy programme in September. 

Domestic sales of new cars, trucks and buses are forecast by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) to drop 11.7% this year to 4.74m vehicles. 

Subsidies for fuel-efficient cars propelled vehicle sales to 5.36m units last year, a gain of 27.5%.

Sales are expected to fall back below 5 million for the first time since 2011 because of "the longer interval between replacements," says Yoshiyasu Nao, the vice chairman of the trade group, Nikkei reported.

Sales of passenger cars are expected to drop 12.9% to 3.98m this year while truck sales are seen falling 5.1%, with a 4.5% decline in bus sales.

Drivers will continue to gravitate to minicars because of their lower prices and maintenance costs, and the sales slump will be less pronounced in this category than in full-size cars, according to JAMA.